Part 4 out of 6
Speaking rapidly and keeping moving, I related my emotions on receipt of
Aunt Dahlia's telegram, my instant rush to the scene of the disaster, my
meditations in the car, and the eventual framing of this well-laid plan
of mine. I spoke clearly and well, and it was with considerable concern,
consequently, that I heard him observe--between clenched teeth, which
made it worse--that he didn't believe a damned word of it.
"But, Tuppy," I said, "why not? To me the thing rings true to the last
drop. What makes you sceptical? Confide in me, Tuppy."
He halted and stood taking a breather. Tuppy, pungently though Angela
might have argued to the contrary, isn't really fat. During the winter
months you will find him constantly booting the football with merry
shouts, and in the summer the tennis racket is seldom out of his hand.
But at the recently concluded evening meal, feeling, no doubt, that after
that painful scene in the larder there was nothing to be gained by
further abstinence, he had rather let himself go and, as it were, made up
leeway; and after really immersing himself in one of Anatole's dinners, a
man of his sturdy build tends to lose elasticity a bit. During the
exposition of my plans for his happiness a certain animation had crept
into this round-and-round-the mulberry-bush jamboree of ours--so much so,
indeed, that for the last few minutes we might have been a rather
oversized greyhound and a somewhat slimmer electric hare doing their
stuff on a circular track for the entertainment of the many-headed.
This, it appeared, had taken it out of him a bit, and I was not
displeased. I was feeling the strain myself, and welcomed a lull.
"It absolutely beats me why you don't believe it," I said. "You know
we've been pals for years. You must be aware that, except at the moment
when you caused me to do a nose dive into the Drones' swimming bath, an
incident which I long since decided to put out of my mind and let the
dead past bury its dead about, if you follow what I mean--except on that
one occasion, as I say, I have always regarded you with the utmost
esteem. Why, then, if not for the motives I have outlined, should I knock
you to Angela? Answer me that. Be very careful."
"What do you mean, be very careful?"
Well, as a matter of fact, I didn't quite know myself. It was what the
magistrate had said to me on the occasion when I stood in the dock as
Eustace Plimsoll, of The Laburnums: and as it had impressed me a good
deal at the time, I just bunged it in now by way of giving the
conversation a tone.
"All right. Never mind about being careful, then. Just answer me that
question. Why, if I had not your interests sincerely at heart, should I
have ticked you off, as stated?"
A sharp spasm shook him from base to apex. The beetle, which, during the
recent exchanges, had been clinging to his head, hoping for the best,
gave it up at this and resigned office. It shot off and was swallowed in
"Ah!" I said. "Your beetle," I explained. "No doubt you were unaware of
it, but all this while there has been a beetle of sorts parked on the
side of your head. You have now dislodged it."
"Not beetles. One beetle only."
"I like your crust!" cried Tuppy, vibrating like one of Gussie's newts
during the courting season. "Talking of beetles, when all the time you
know you're a treacherous, sneaking hound."
It was a debatable point, of course, why treacherous, sneaking hounds
should be considered ineligible to talk about beetles, and I dare say a
good cross-examining counsel would have made quite a lot of it.
But I let it go.
"That's the second time you've called me that. And," I said firmly, "I
insist on an explanation. I have told you that I acted throughout from
the best and kindliest motives in roasting you to Angela. It cut me to
the quick to have to speak like that, and only the recollection of our
lifelong friendship would have made me do it. And now you say you don't
believe me and call me names for which I am not sure I couldn't have you
up before a beak and jury and mulct you in very substantial damages. I
should have to consult my solicitor, of course, but it would surprise me
very much if an action did not lie. Be reasonable, Tuppy. Suggest another
motive I could have had. Just one."
"I will. Do you think I don't know? You're in love with Angela yourself."
"And you knocked me in order to poison her mind against me and finally
remove me from your path."
I had never heard anything so absolutely loopy in my life. Why, dash it,
I've known Angela since she was so high. You don't fall in love with
close relations you've known since they were so high. Besides, isn't
there something in the book of rules about a man may not marry his
cousin? Or am I thinking of grandmothers?
"Tuppy, my dear old ass," I cried, "this is pure banana oil! You've come
"Me in love with Angela? Ha-ha!"
"You can't get out of it with ha-ha's. She called you 'darling'."
"I know. And I disapproved. This habit of the younger g. of scattering
'darlings' about like birdseed is one that I deprecate. Lax, is how I
should describe it."
"You tickled her ankles."
"In a purely cousinly spirit. It didn't mean a thing. Why, dash it, you
must know that in the deeper and truer sense I wouldn't touch Angela with
a barge pole."
"Oh? And why not? Not good enough for you?"
"You misunderstand me," I hastened to reply. "When I say I wouldn't touch
Angela with a barge pole, I intend merely to convey that my feelings
towards her are those of distant, though cordial, esteem. In other words,
you may rest assured that between this young prune and myself there never
has been and never could be any sentiment warmer and stronger than that
of ordinary friendship."
"I believe it was you who tipped her off that I was in the larder fast
night, so that she could find me there with that pie, thus damaging my
"My dear Tuppy! A Wooster?" I was shocked. "You think a Wooster would do
He breathed heavily.
"Listen," he said. "It's no good your standing there arguing. You can't
get away from the facts. Somebody stole her from me at Cannes. You told
me yourself that she was with you all the time at Cannes and hardly saw
anybody else. You gloated over the mixed bathing, and those moonlight
walks you had together----"
"Not gloated. Just mentioned them."
"So now you understand why, as soon as I can get you clear of this damned
bench, I am going to tear you limb from limb. Why they have these bally
benches in gardens," said Tuppy discontentedly, "is more than I can see.
They only get in the way."
He ceased, and, grabbing out, missed me by a hair's breadth.
It was a moment for swift thinking, and it is at such moments, as I have
already indicated, that Bertram Wooster is at his best. I suddenly
remembered the recent misunderstanding with the Bassett, and with a flash
of clear vision saw that this was where it was going to come in handy.
"You've got it all wrong, Tuppy," I said, moving to the left. "True, I
saw a lot of Angela, but my dealings with her were on a basis from start
to finish of the purest and most wholesome camaraderie. I can prove it.
During that sojourn in Cannes my affections were engaged elsewhere."
"Engaged elsewhere. My affections. During that sojourn."
I had struck the right note. He stopped sidling. His clutching hand fell
to his side.
"Is that true?"
"Who was she?"
"My dear Tuppy, does one bandy a woman's name?"
"One does if one doesn't want one's ruddy head pulled off."
I saw that it was a special case.
"Madeline Bassett," I said.
He seemed stunned.
"You stand there and tell me you were in love with that Bassett
"I wouldn't call her 'that Bassett disaster', Tuppy. Not respectful."
"Dash being respectful. I want the facts. You deliberately assert that
you loved that weird Gawd-help-us?"
"I don't see why you should call her a weird Gawd-help-us, either. A very
charming and beautiful girl. Odd in some of her views perhaps--one does
not quite see eye to eye with her in the matter of stars and rabbits--but
not a weird Gawd-help-us."
"Anyway, you stick to it that you were in love with her?"
"It sounds thin to me, Wooster, very thin."
I saw that it would be necessary to apply the finishing touch.
"I must ask you to treat this as entirely confidential, Glossop, but I
may as well inform you that it is not twenty-four hours since she turned
"Turned you down?"
"Like a bedspread. In this very garden."
"Call it twenty-five. So you will readily see that I can't be the chap,
if any, who stole Angela from you at Cannes."
And I was on the brink of adding that I wouldn't touch Angela with a
barge pole, when I remembered I had said it already and it hadn't gone
frightfully well. I desisted, therefore.
My manly frankness seemed to be producing good results. The homicidal
glare was dying out of Tuppy's eyes. He had the aspect of a hired
assassin who had paused to think things over.
"I see," he said, at length. "All right, then. Sorry you were troubled."
"Don't mention it, old man," I responded courteously.
For the first time since the bushes had begun to pour forth Glossops,
Bertram Wooster could be said to have breathed freely. I don't say I
actually came out from behind the bench, but I did let go of it, and with
something of the relief which those three chaps in the Old Testament must
have experienced after sliding out of the burning fiery furnace, I even
groped tentatively for my cigarette case.
The next moment a sudden snort made me take my fingers off it as if it
had bitten me. I was distressed to note in the old friend a return of the
What the hell did you mean by telling her that I used to be covered with
ink when I was a kid?"
"My dear Tuppy----"
"I was almost finickingly careful about my personal cleanliness as a boy.
You could have eaten your dinner off me."
"And all that stuff about having no soul. I'm crawling with soul. And
being looked on as an outsider at the Drones----"
"But, my dear old chap, I explained that. It was all part of my ruse or
"It was, was it? Well, in future do me a favour and leave me out of your
"Just as you say, old boy."
"All right, then. That's understood."
He relapsed into silence, standing with folded arms, staring before him
rather like a strong, silent man in a novel when he's just been given the
bird by the girl and is thinking of looking in at the Rocky Mountains and
bumping off a few bears. His manifest pippedness excited my compash, and
I ventured a kindly word.
"I don't suppose you know what _au pied de la lettre_ means, Tuppy, but
that's how I don't think you ought to take all that stuff Angela was
saying just now too much."
He seemed interested.
"What the devil," he asked, "are you talking about?"
I saw that I should have to make myself clearer.
"Don't take all that guff of hers too literally, old man. You know what
girls are like."
"I do," he said, with another snort that came straight up from his
insteps. "And I wish I'd never met one."
"I mean to say, it's obvious that she must have spotted you in those
bushes and was simply talking to score off you. There you were, I mean,
if you follow the psychology, and she saw you, and in that impulsive way
girls have, she seized the opportunity of ribbing you a bit--just told
you a few home truths, I mean to say."
He snorted once more, causing me to feel rather like royalty receiving a
twenty-one gun salute from the fleet. I can't remember ever having met a
better right-and-left-hand snorter.
"What do you mean, 'home truths'? I'm not fat."
"And what's wrong with the colour of my hair?"
"Quite in order, Tuppy, old man. The hair, I mean."
"And I'm not a bit thin on the top.... What the dickens are you grinning
"Not grinning. Just smiling slightly. I was conjuring up a sort of
vision, if you know what I mean, of you as seen through Angela's eyes.
Fat in the middle and thin on the top. Rather funny."
"You think it funny, do you?"
"Not a bit."
"You'd better not."
It seemed to me that the conversation was becoming difficult again. I
wished it could be terminated. And so it was. For at this moment
something came shimmering through the laurels in the quiet evenfall, and
I perceived that it was Angela.
She was looking sweet and saintlike, and she had a plate of sandwiches in
her hand. Ham, I was to discover later.
"If you see Mr. Glossop anywhere, Bertie," she said, her eyes resting
dreamily on Tuppy's facade, "I wish you would give him these. I'm so
afraid he may be hungry, poor fellow. It's nearly ten o'clock, and he
hasn't eaten a morsel since dinner. I'll just leave them on this bench."
She pushed off, and it seemed to me that I might as well go with her.
Nothing to keep me here, I mean. We moved towards the house, and
presently from behind us there sounded in the night the splintering crash
of a well-kicked plate of ham sandwiches, accompanied by the muffled
oaths of a strong man in his wrath.
"How still and peaceful everything is," said Angela.
Sunshine was gilding the grounds of Brinkley Court and the ear detected a
marked twittering of birds in the ivy outside the window when I woke next
morning to a new day. But there was no corresponding sunshine in Bertram
Wooster's soul and no answering twitter in his heart as he sat up in bed,
sipping his cup of strengthening tea. It could not be denied that to
Bertram, reviewing the happenings of the previous night, the Tuppy-Angela
situation seemed more or less to have slipped a cog. With every desire to
look for the silver lining, I could not but feel that the rift between
these two haughty spirits had now reached such impressive proportions
that the task of bridging same would be beyond even my powers.
I am a shrewd observer, and there had been something in Tuppy's manner as
he booted that plate of ham sandwiches that seemed to tell me that he
would not lightly forgive.
In these circs., I deemed it best to shelve their problem for the nonce
and turn the mind to the matter of Gussie, which presented a brighter
With regard to Gussie, everything was in train. Jeeves's morbid scruples
about lacing the chap's orange juice had put me to a good deal of
trouble, but I had surmounted every obstacle in the old Wooster way. I
had secured an abundance of the necessary spirit, and it was now lying in
its flask in the drawer of the dressing-table. I had also ascertained
that the jug, duly filled, would be standing on a shelf in the butler's
pantry round about the hour of one. To remove it from that shelf, sneak
it up to my room, and return it, laced, in good time for the midday meal
would be a task calling, no doubt, for address, but in no sense an
It was with something of the emotions of one preparing a treat for a
deserving child that I finished my tea and rolled over for that extra
spot of sleep which just makes all the difference when there is man's
work to be done and the brain must be kept clear for it.
And when I came downstairs an hour or so later, I knew how right I had
been to formulate this scheme for Gussie's bucking up. I ran into him on
the lawn, and I could see at a glance that if ever there was a man who
needed a snappy stimulant, it was he. All nature, as I have indicated,
was smiling, but not Augustus Fink-Nottle. He was walking round in
circles, muttering something about not proposing to detain us long, but
on this auspicious occasion feeling compelled to say a few words.
"Ah, Gussie," I said, arresting him as he was about to start another lap.
"A lovely morning, is it not?"
Even if I had not been aware of it already, I could have divined from the
abruptness with which he damned the lovely morning that he was not in
merry mood. I addressed myself to the task of bringing the roses back to
"I've got good news for you, Gussie."
He looked at me with a sudden sharp interest.
"Has Market Snodsbury Grammar School burned down?"
"Not that I know of."
"Have mumps broken out? Is the place closed on account of measles?"
"Then what do you mean you've got good news?"
I endeavoured to soothe.
"You mustn't take it so hard, Gussie. Why worry about a laughably simple
job like distributing prizes at a school?"
"Laughably simple, eh? Do you realize I've been sweating for days and
haven't been able to think of a thing to say yet, except that I won't
detain them long. You bet I won't detain them long. I've been timing my
speech, and it lasts five seconds. What the devil am I to say, Bertie?
What do you say when you're distributing prizes?"
I considered. Once, at my private school, I had won a prize for Scripture
knowledge, so I suppose I ought to have been full of inside stuff. But
memory eluded me.
Then something emerged from the mists.
"You say the race is not always to the swift."
"Well, it's a good gag. It generally gets a hand."
"I mean, why isn't it? Why isn't the race to the swift?"
"Ah, there you have me. But the nibs say it isn't."
"But what does it mean?"
"I take it it's supposed to console the chaps who haven't won prizes."
"What's the good of that to me? I'm not worrying about them. It's the
ones that have won prizes that I'm worrying about, the little blighters
who will come up on the platform. Suppose they make faces at me."
"How do you know they won't? It's probably the first thing they'll think
of. And even if they don't--Bertie, shall I tell you something?"
"I've a good mind to take that tip of yours and have a drink."
I smiled. He little knew, about summed up what I was thinking.
"Oh, you'll be all right," I said.
He became fevered again.
"How do you know I'll be all right? I'm sure to blow up in my lines."
"Or drop a prize."
"Or something. I can feel it in my bones. As sure as I'm standing here,
something is going to happen this afternoon which will make everybody
laugh themselves sick at me. I can hear them now. Like hyenas....
"Do you remember that kids' school we went to before Eton?"
"Quite. It was there I won my Scripture prize."
"Never mind about your Scripture prize. I'm not talking about your
Scripture prize. Do you recollect the Bosher incident?"
I did, indeed. It was one of the high spots of my youth.
"Major-General Sir Wilfred Bosher came to distribute the prizes at that
school," proceeded Gussie in a dull, toneless voice. "He dropped a book.
He stooped to pick it up. And, as he stooped, his trousers split up the
"How we roared!"
Gussie's face twisted.
"We did, little swine that we were. Instead of remaining silent and
exhibiting a decent sympathy for a gallant officer at a peculiarly
embarrassing moment, we howled and yelled with mirth. I loudest of any.
That is what will happen to me this afternoon, Bertie. It will be a
judgment on me for laughing like that at Major-General Sir Wilfred
"No, no, Gussie, old man. Your trousers won't split."
"How do you know they won't? Better men than I have split their trousers.
General Bosher was a D.S.O., with a fine record of service on the
north-western frontier of India, and his trousers split. I shall be a
mockery and a scorn. I know it. And you, fully cognizant of what I am in
for, come babbling about good news. What news could possibly be good to me
at this moment except the information that bubonic plague had broken out
among the scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School, and that they were
all confined to their beds with spots?"
The moment had come for me to speak. I laid a hand gently on his
shoulder. He brushed it off. I laid it on again. He brushed it off once
more. I was endeavouring to lay it on for the third time, when he moved
aside and desired, with a certain petulance, to be informed if I thought
I was a ruddy osteopath.
I found his manner trying, but one has to make allowances. I was telling
myself that I should be seeing a very different Gussie after lunch.
"When I said I had good news, old man, I meant about Madeline Bassett."
The febrile gleam died out of his eyes, to be replaced by a look of
"You can't have good news about her. I've dished myself there completely."
"Not at all. I am convinced that if you take another whack at her, all
will be well."
And, keeping it snappy, I related what had passed between the Bassett and
myself on the previous night.
"So all you have to do is play a return date, and you cannot fail to
swing the voting. You are her dream man."
He shook his head.
"What do you mean?"
"Not a bit of good trying."
"But I tell you she said in so many words----"
"It doesn't make any difference. She may have loved me once. Last night
will have killed all that."
"Of course it won't."
"It will. She despises me now."
"Not a bit of it. She knows you simply got cold feet."
"And I should get cold feet if I tried again. It's no good, Bertie. I'm
hopeless, and there's an end of it. Fate made me the sort of chap who
can't say 'bo' to a goose."
"It isn't a question of saying 'bo' to a goose. The point doesn't arise
at all. It is simply a matter of----"
"I know, I know. But it's no good. I can't do it. The whole thing is off.
I am not going to risk a repetition of last night's fiasco. You talk in a
light way of taking another whack at her, but you don't know what it
means. You have not been through the experience of starting to ask the
girl you love to marry you and then suddenly finding yourself talking
about the plumlike external gills of the newly-born newt. It's not a
thing you can do twice. No, I accept my destiny. It's all over. And now,
Bertie, like a good chap, shove off. I want to compose my speech. I can't
compose my speech with you mucking around. If you are going to continue
to muck around, at least give me a couple of stories. The little hell
hounds are sure to expect a story or two."
"Do you know the one about----"
"No good. I don't want any of your off-colour stuff from the Drones'
smoking-room. I need something clean. Something that will be a help to
them in their after lives. Not that I care a damn about their after
lives, except that I hope they'll all choke."
"I heard a story the other day. I can't quite remember it, but it was
about a chap who snored and disturbed the neighbours, and it ended, 'It
was his adenoids that adenoid them.'"
He made a weary gesture.
"You expect me to work that in, do you, into a speech to be delivered to
an audience of boys, every one of whom is probably riddled with adenoids?
Damn it, they'd rush the platform. Leave me, Bertie. Push off. That's all
I ask you to do. Push off.... Ladies and gentlemen," said Gussie, in a
low, soliloquizing sort of way, "I do not propose to detain this
auspicious occasion long----"
It was a thoughtful Wooster who walked away and left him at it. More than
ever I was congratulating myself on having had the sterling good sense to
make all my arrangements so that I could press a button and set things
moving at an instant's notice.
Until now, you see, I had rather entertained a sort of hope that when I
had revealed to him the Bassett's mental attitude, Nature would have done
the rest, bracing him up to such an extent that artificial stimulants
would not be required. Because, naturally, a chap doesn't want to have to
sprint about country houses lugging jugs of orange juice, unless it is
But now I saw that I must carry on as planned. The total absence of pep,
ginger, and the right spirit which the man had displayed during these
conversational exchanges convinced me that the strongest measures would
be necessary. Immediately upon leaving him, therefore, I proceeded to the
pantry, waited till the butler had removed himself elsewhere, and nipped
in and secured the vital jug. A few moments later, after a wary passage
of the stairs, I was in my room. And the first thing I saw there was
Jeeves, fooling about with trousers.
He gave the jug a look which--wrongly, as it was to turn out--I diagnosed
as censorious. I drew myself up a bit. I intended to have no rot from the
"You have the air of one about to make a remark, Jeeves."
"Oh, no, sir. I note that you are in possession of Mr. Fink-Nottle's
orange juice. I was merely about to observe that in my opinion it would
be injudicious to add spirit to it."
"That is a remark, Jeeves, and it is precisely----"
"Because I have already attended to the matter, sir."
"Yes, sir. I decided, after all, to acquiesce in your wishes."
I stared at the man, astounded. I was deeply moved. Well, I mean,
wouldn't any chap who had been going about thinking that the old feudal
spirit was dead and then suddenly found it wasn't have been deeply moved?
"Jeeves," I said, "I am touched."
"Thank you, sir."
"Touched and gratified."
"Thank you very much, sir."
"But what caused this change of heart?"
"I chanced to encounter Mr. Fink-Nottle in the garden, sir, while you
were still in bed, and we had a brief conversation."
"And you came away feeling that he needed a bracer?"
"Very much so, sir. His attitude struck me as defeatist."
"I felt the same. 'Defeatist' sums it up to a nicety. Did you tell him
his attitude struck you as defeatist?"
"But it didn't do any good?"
"Very well, then, Jeeves. We must act. How much gin did you put in the
"A liberal tumblerful, sir."
"Would that be a normal dose for an adult defeatist, do you think?"
"I fancy it should prove adequate, sir."
"I wonder. We must not spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. I think I'll
add just another fluid ounce or so."
"I would not advocate it, sir. In the case of Lord Brancaster's
"You are falling into your old error, Jeeves, of thinking that Gussie is
a parrot. Fight against this. I shall add the oz."
"Very good, sir."
"And, by the way, Jeeves, Mr. Fink-Nottle is in the market for bright,
clean stories to use in his speech. Do you know any?"
"I know a story about two Irishmen, sir."
"Pat and Mike?"
"Who were walking along Broadway?"
"Just what he wants. Any more?"
"Well, every little helps. You had better go and tell it to him."
"Very good, sir."
He passed from the room, and I unscrewed the flask and tilted into the
jug a generous modicum of its contents. And scarcely had I done so, when
there came to my ears the sound of footsteps without. I had only just
time to shove the jug behind the photograph of Uncle Tom on the
mantelpiece before the door opened and in came Gussie, curveting like a
"What-ho, Bertie," he said. "What-ho, what-ho, what-ho, and again
what-ho. What a beautiful world this is, Bertie. One of the nicest I
I stared at him, speechless. We Woosters are as quick as lightning, and I
saw at once that something had happened.
I mean to say, I told you about him walking round in circles. I recorded
what passed between us on the lawn. And if I portrayed the scene with
anything like adequate skill, the picture you will have retained of this
Fink-Nottle will have been that of a nervous wreck, sagging at the knees,
green about the gills, and picking feverishly at the lapels of his coat
in an ecstasy of craven fear. In a word, defeatist. Gussie, during that
interview, had, in fine, exhibited all the earmarks of one licked to a
Vastly different was the Gussie who stood before me now. Self-confidence
seemed to ooze from the fellow's every pore. His face was flushed, there
was a jovial light in his eyes, the lips were parted in a swashbuckling
smile. And when with a genial hand he sloshed me on the back before I
could sidestep, it was as if I had been kicked by a mule.
"Well, Bertie," he proceeded, as blithely as a linnet without a thing on
his mind, "you will be glad to hear that you were right. Your theory has
been tested and proved correct. I feel like a fighting cock."
My brain ceased to reel. I saw all.
"Have you been having a drink?"
"I have. As you advised. Unpleasant stuff. Like medicine. Burns your
throat, too, and makes one as thirsty as the dickens. How anyone can mop
it up, as you do, for pleasure, beats me. Still, I would be the last to
deny that it tunes up the system. I could bite a tiger.
"What did you have?"
"Whisky. At least, that was the label on the decanter, and I have no
reason to suppose that a woman like your aunt--staunch, true-blue,
British--would deliberately deceive the public. If she labels her
decanters Whisky, then I consider that we know where we are."
"A whisky and soda, eh? You couldn't have done better."
"Soda?" said Gussie thoughtfully. "I knew there was something I had
"Didn't you put any soda in it?"
"It never occurred to me. I just nipped into the dining-room and drank
out of the decanter."
"Oh, about ten swallows. Twelve, maybe. Or fourteen. Say sixteen
medium-sized gulps. Gosh, I'm thirsty."
He moved over to the wash-stand and drank deeply out of the water bottle.
I cast a covert glance at Uncle Tom's photograph behind his back. For the
first time since it had come into my life, I was glad that it was so
large. It hid its secret well. If Gussie had caught sight of that jug of
orange juice, he would unquestionably have been on to it like a knife.
"Well, I'm glad you're feeling braced," I said.
He moved buoyantly from the wash-hand stand, and endeavoured to slosh me
on the back again. Foiled by my nimble footwork, he staggered to the bed
and sat down upon it.
"Braced? Did I say I could bite a tiger?"
"Make it two tigers. I could chew holes in a steel door. What an ass you
must have thought me out there in the garden. I see now you were laughing
in your sleeve."
"Yes," insisted Gussie. "That very sleeve," he said, pointing. "And I
don't blame you. I can't imagine why I made all that fuss about a potty
job like distributing prizes at a rotten little country grammar school.
Can you imagine, Bertie?"
"Exactly. Nor can I imagine. There's simply nothing to it. I just shin up
on the platform, drop a few gracious words, hand the little blighters
their prizes, and hop down again, admired by all. Not a suggestion of
split trousers from start to finish. I mean, why should anybody split his
trousers? I can't imagine. Can you imagine?"
"Nor can I imagine. I shall be a riot. I know just the sort of stuff
that's needed--simple, manly, optimistic stuff straight from the
shoulder. This shoulder," said Gussie, tapping. "Why I was so nervous
this morning I can't imagine. For anything simpler than distributing a
few footling books to a bunch of grimy-faced kids I can't imagine. Still,
for some reason I can't imagine, I was feeling a little nervous, but now
I feel fine, Bertie--fine, fine, fine--and I say this to you as an old
friend. Because that's what you are, old man, when all the smoke has
cleared away--an old friend. I don't think I've ever met an older friend.
How long have you been an old friend of mine, Bertie?"
"Oh, years and years."
"Imagine! Though, of course, there must have been a time when you were a
new friend.... Hullo, the luncheon gong. Come on, old friend."
And, rising from the bed like a performing flea, he made for the door.
I followed rather pensively. What had occurred was, of course, so much
velvet, as you might say. I mean, I had wanted a braced Fink-Nottle--
indeed, all my plans had had a braced Fink-Nottle as their end and aim
--but I found myself wondering a little whether the Fink-Nottle now
sliding down the banister wasn't, perhaps, a shade too braced. His
demeanour seemed to me that of a man who might quite easily throw bread
about at lunch.
Fortunately, however, the settled gloom of those round him exercised a
restraining effect upon him at the table. It would have needed a far more
plastered man to have been rollicking at such a gathering. I had told the
Bassett that there were aching hearts in Brinkley Court, and it now
looked probable that there would shortly be aching tummies. Anatole, I
learned, had retired to his bed with a fit of the vapours, and the meal
now before us had been cooked by the kitchen maid--as C3 a performer as
ever wielded a skillet.
This, coming on top of their other troubles, induced in the company a
pretty unanimous silence--a solemn stillness, as you might say--which
even Gussie did not seem prepared to break. Except, therefore, for one
short snatch of song on his part, nothing untoward marked the occasion,
and presently we rose, with instructions from Aunt Dahlia to put on
festal raiment and be at Market Snodsbury not later than 3.30. This
leaving me ample time to smoke a gasper or two in a shady bower beside
the lake, I did so, repairing to my room round about the hour of three.
Jeeves was on the job, adding the final polish to the old topper, and I
was about to apprise him of the latest developments in the matter of
Gussie, when he forestalled me by observing that the latter had only just
concluded an agreeable visit to the Wooster bedchamber.
"I found Mr. Fink-Nottle seated here when I arrived to lay out your
"Indeed, Jeeves? Gussie was in here, was he?"
"Yes, sir. He left only a few moments ago. He is driving to the school
with Mr. and Mrs. Travers in the large car."
"Did you give him your story of the two Irishmen?"
"Yes, sir. He laughed heartily."
"Good. Had you any other contributions for him?"
"I ventured to suggest that he might mention to the young gentlemen that
education is a drawing out, not a putting in. The late Lord Brancaster
was much addicted to presenting prizes at schools, and he invariably
employed this dictum."
"And how did he react to that?"
"He laughed heartily, sir."
"This surprised you, no doubt? This practically incessant merriment, I
"You thought it odd in one who, when you last saw him, was well up in
Group A of the defeatists."
"There is a ready explanation, Jeeves. Since you last saw him, Gussie has
been on a bender. He's as tight as an owl."
"Absolutely. His nerve cracked under the strain, and he sneaked into the
dining-room and started mopping the stuff up like a vacuum cleaner.
Whisky would seem to be what he filled the radiator with. I gather that
he used up most of the decanter. Golly, Jeeves, it's lucky he didn't get
at that laced orange juice on top of that, what?"
I eyed the jug. Uncle Tom's photograph had fallen into the fender, and it
was standing there right out in the open, where Gussie couldn't have
helped seeing it. Mercifully, it was empty now.
"It was a most prudent act on your part, if I may say so, sir, to dispose
of the orange juice."
I stared at the man.
"What? Didn't you?"
"Jeeves, let us get this clear. Was it not you who threw away that o.j.?"
"No, sir. I assumed, when I entered the room and found the pitcher empty,
that you had done so."
We looked at each other, awed. Two minds with but a single thought.
"I very much fear, sir----"
"So do I, Jeeves."
"It would seem almost certain----"
"Quite certain. Weigh the facts. Sift the evidence. The jug was standing
on the mantelpiece, for all eyes to behold. Gussie had been complaining
of thirst. You found him in here, laughing heartily. I think that there
can be little doubt, Jeeves, that the entire contents of that jug are at
this moment reposing on top of the existing cargo in that already
brilliantly lit man's interior. Disturbing, Jeeves."
"Most disturbing, sir."
"Let us face the position, forcing ourselves to be calm. You inserted in
that jug--shall we say a tumblerful of the right stuff?"
"Fully a tumblerful, sir."
"And I added of my plenty about the same amount."
"And in two shakes of a duck's tail Gussie, with all that lapping about
inside him, will be distributing the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar
School before an audience of all that is fairest and most refined in the
"It seems to me, Jeeves, that the ceremony may be one fraught with
"What, in your opinion, will the harvest be?"
"One finds it difficult to hazard a conjecture, sir."
"You mean imagination boggles?"
I inspected my imagination. He was right. It boggled.
"And yet, Jeeves," I said, twiddling a thoughtful steering wheel, "there
is always the bright side."
Some twenty minutes had elapsed, and having picked the honest fellow up
outside the front door, I was driving in the two-seater to the
picturesque town of Market Snodsbury. Since we had parted--he to go to
his lair and fetch his hat, I to remain in my room and complete the
formal costume--I had been doing some close thinking.
The results of this I now proceeded to hand on to him.
"However dark the prospect may be, Jeeves, however murkily the storm
clouds may seem to gather, a keen eye can usually discern the blue bird.
It is bad, no doubt, that Gussie should be going, some ten minutes from
now, to distribute prizes in a state of advanced intoxication, but we
must never forget that these things cut both ways."
"You imply, sir----"
"Precisely. I am thinking of him in his capacity of wooer. All this ought
to have put him in rare shape for offering his hand in marriage. I shall
be vastly surprised if it won't turn him into a sort of caveman. Have you
ever seen James Cagney in the movies?"
"Something on those lines."
I heard him cough, and sniped him with a sideways glance. He was wearing
that informative look of his.
"Then you have not heard, sir?"
"You are not aware that a marriage has been arranged and will shortly
take place between Mr. Fink-Nottle and Miss Bassett?"
"When did this happen?"
"Shortly after Mr. Fink-Nottle had left your room, sir."
"Ah! In the post-orange-juice era?"
"But are you sure of your facts? How do you know?"
"My informant was Mr. Fink-Nottle himself, sir. He appeared anxious to
confide in me. His story was somewhat incoherent, but I had no difficulty
in apprehending its substance. Prefacing his remarks with the statement
that this was a beautiful world, he laughed heartily and said that he had
become formally engaged."
"But one can picture the scene."
"I mean, imagination doesn't boggle."
And it didn't. I could see exactly what must have happened. Insert a
liberal dose of mixed spirits in a normally abstemious man, and he
becomes a force. He does not stand around, twiddling his fingers and
stammering. He acts. I had no doubt that Gussie must have reached for the
Bassett and clasped her to him like a stevedore handling a sack of coals.
And one could readily envisage the effect of that sort of thing on a girl
of romantic mind.
"Well, well, well, Jeeves."
"This is splendid news."
"You see now how right I was."
"It must have been rather an eye-opener for you, watching me handle this
"The simple, direct method never fails."
"Whereas the elaborate does."
"Right ho, Jeeves."
We had arrived at the main entrance of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. I
parked the car, and went in, well content. True, the Tuppy-Angela problem
still remained unsolved and Aunt Dahlia's five hundred quid seemed as far
off as ever, but it was gratifying to feel that good old Gussie's
troubles were over, at any rate.
The Grammar School at Market Snodsbury had, I understood, been built
somewhere in the year 1416, and, as with so many of these ancient
foundations, there still seemed to brood over its Great Hall, where the
afternoon's festivities were to take place, not a little of the fug of
the centuries. It was the hottest day of the summer, and though somebody
had opened a tentative window or two, the atmosphere remained distinctive
In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily
lunch for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavour lingered. The
air was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the
scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.
Aunt Dahlia, who was sitting with a bevy of the local nibs in the second
row, sighted me as I entered and waved to me to join her, but I was too
smart for that. I wedged myself in among the standees at the back,
leaning up against a chap who, from the aroma, might have been a corn
chandler or something on that order. The essence of strategy on these
occasions is to be as near the door as possible.
The hall was gaily decorated with flags and coloured paper, and the eye
was further refreshed by the spectacle of a mixed drove of boys, parents,
and what not, the former running a good deal to shiny faces and Eton
collars, the latter stressing the black-satin note rather when female,
and looking as if their coats were too tight, if male. And presently
there was some applause--sporadic, Jeeves has since told me it was--and I
saw Gussie being steered by a bearded bloke in a gown to a seat in the
middle of the platform.
And I confess that as I beheld him and felt that there but for the grace
of God went Bertram Wooster, a shudder ran through the frame. It all
reminded me so vividly of the time I had addressed that girls' school.
Of course, looking at it dispassionately, you may say that for horror and
peril there is no comparison between an almost human audience like the
one before me and a mob of small girls with pigtails down their backs,
and this, I concede, is true. Nevertheless, the spectacle was enough to
make me feel like a fellow watching a pal going over Niagara Falls in a
barrel, and the thought of what I had escaped caused everything for a
moment to go black and swim before my eyes.
When I was able to see clearly once more, I perceived that Gussie was now
seated. He had his hands on his knees, with his elbows out at right
angles, like a nigger minstrel of the old school about to ask Mr. Bones
why a chicken crosses the road, and he was staring before him with a
smile so fixed and pebble-beached that I should have thought that anybody
could have guessed that there sat one in whom the old familiar juice was
plashing up against the back of the front teeth.
In fact, I saw Aunt Dahlia, who, having assisted at so many hunting
dinners in her time, is second to none as a judge of the symptoms, give a
start and gaze long and earnestly. And she was just saying something to
Uncle Tom on her left when the bearded bloke stepped to the footlights
and started making a speech. From the fact that he spoke as if he had a
hot potato in his mouth without getting the raspberry from the lads in
the ringside seats, I deduced that he must be the head master.
With his arrival in the spotlight, a sort of perspiring resignation
seemed to settle on the audience. Personally, I snuggled up against the
chandler and let my attention wander. The speech was on the subject of
the doings of the school during the past term, and this part of a
prize-giving is always apt rather to fail to grip the visiting stranger.
I mean, you know how it is. You're told that J.B. Brewster has won an
Exhibition for Classics at Cat's, Cambridge, and you feel that it's one
of those stories where you can't see how funny it is unless you really
know the fellow. And the same applies to G. Bullett being awarded the
Lady Jane Wix Scholarship at the Birmingham College of Veterinary
In fact, I and the corn chandler, who was looking a bit fagged I thought,
as if he had had a hard morning chandling the corn, were beginning to
doze lightly when things suddenly brisked up, bringing Gussie into the
picture for the first time.
"Today," said the bearded bloke, "we are all happy to welcome as the
guest of the afternoon Mr. Fitz-Wattle----"
At the beginning of the address, Gussie had subsided into a sort of
daydream, with his mouth hanging open. About half-way through, faint
signs of life had begun to show. And for the last few minutes he had been
trying to cross one leg over the other and failing and having another
shot and failing again. But only now did he exhibit any real animation.
He sat up with a jerk.
"Fink-Nottle," he said, opening his eyes.
"I should say Fink-Nottle."
"Of course you should, you silly ass," said Gussie genially. "All right,
get on with it."
And closing his eyes, he began trying to cross his legs again.
I could see that this little spot of friction had rattled the bearded
bloke a bit. He stood for a moment fumbling at the fungus with a
hesitating hand. But they make these head masters of tough stuff. The
weakness passed. He came back nicely and carried on.
"We are all happy, I say, to welcome as the guest of the afternoon Mr.
Fink-Nottle, who has kindly consented to award the prizes. This task, as
you know, is one that should have devolved upon that well-beloved and
vigorous member of our board of governors, the Rev. William Plomer, and
we are all, I am sure, very sorry that illness at the last moment should
have prevented him from being here today. But, if I may borrow a familiar
metaphor from the--if I may employ a homely metaphor familiar to you
all--what we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts."
He paused, and beamed rather freely, to show that this was comedy. I
could have told the man it was no use. Not a ripple. The corn chandler
leaned against me and muttered "Whoddidesay?" but that was all.
It's always a nasty jar to wait for the laugh and find that the gag
hasn't got across. The bearded bloke was visibly discomposed. At that,
however, I think he would have got by, had he not, at this juncture,
unfortunately stirred Gussie up again.
"In other words, though deprived of Mr. Plomer, we have with us this
afternoon Mr. Fink-Nottle. I am sure that Mr. Fink-Nottle's name is one
that needs no introduction to you. It is, I venture to assert, a name
that is familiar to us all."
"Not to you," said Gussie.
And the next moment I saw what Jeeves had meant when he had described him
as laughing heartily. "Heartily" was absolutely the _mot juste_. It
sounded like a gas explosion.
"You didn't seem to know it so dashed well, what, what?" said Gussie.
And, reminded apparently by the word "what" of the word "Wattle," he
repeated the latter some sixteen times with a rising inflection.
"Wattle, Wattle, Wattle," he concluded. "Right-ho. Push on."
But the bearded bloke had shot his bolt. He stood there, licked at last;
and, watching him closely, I could see that he was now at the crossroads.
I could spot what he was thinking as clearly as if he had confided it to
my personal ear. He wanted to sit down and call it a day, I mean, but the
thought that gave him pause was that, if he did, he must then either
uncork Gussie or take the Fink-Nottle speech as read and get straight on
to the actual prize-giving.
It was a dashed tricky thing, of course, to have to decide on the spur of
the moment. I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds
who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven't the
foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the
other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel,
no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up
in smoke and himself torn limb from limb.
So with the bearded bloke. Whether he was abreast of the inside facts in
Gussie's case, I don't know, but it was obvious to him by this time that
he had run into something pretty hot. Trial gallops had shown that Gussie
had his own way of doing things. Those interruptions had been enough to
prove to the perspicacious that here, seated on the platform at the big
binge of the season, was one who, if pushed forward to make a speech,
might let himself go in a rather epoch-making manner.
On the other hand, chain him up and put a green-baize cloth over him, and
where were you? The proceeding would be over about half an hour too soon.
It was, as I say, a difficult problem to have to solve, and, left to
himself, I don't know what conclusion he would have come to. Personally,
I think he would have played it safe. As it happened, however, the thing
was taken out of his hands, for at this moment, Gussie, having stretched
his arms and yawned a bit, switched on that pebble-beached smile again
and tacked down to the edge of the platform.
"Speech," he said affably.
He then stood with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, waiting
for the applause to die down.
It was some time before this happened, for he had got a very fine hand
indeed. I suppose it wasn't often that the boys of Market Snodsbury
Grammar School came across a man public-spirited enough to call their
head master a silly ass, and they showed their appreciation in no
uncertain manner. Gussie may have been one over the eight, but as far as
the majority of those present were concerned he was sitting on top of the
"Boys," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and boys, I do not
detain you long, but I suppose on this occasion to feel compelled to say
a few auspicious words; Ladies--and boys and gentlemen--we have all
listened with interest to the remarks of our friend here who forgot to
shave this morning--I don't know his name, but then he didn't know
mine--Fitz-Wattle, I mean, absolutely absurd--which squares things up a
bit--and we are all sorry that the Reverend What-ever-he-was-called should
be dying of adenoids, but after all, here today, gone tomorrow, and all
flesh is as grass, and what not, but that wasn't what I wanted to say.
What I wanted to say was this--and I say it confidently--without fear of
contradiction--I say, in short, I am happy to be here on this auspicious
occasion and I take much pleasure in kindly awarding the prizes,
consisting of the handsome books you see laid out on that table. As
Shakespeare says, there are sermons in books, stones in the running
brooks, or, rather, the other way about, and there you have it in a
It went well, and I wasn't surprised. I couldn't quite follow some of it,
but anybody could see that it was real ripe stuff, and I was amazed that
even the course of treatment he had been taking could have rendered so
normally tongue-tied a dumb brick as Gussie capable of it.
It just shows, what any member of Parliament will tell you, that if you
want real oratory, the preliminary noggin is essential. Unless pie-eyed,
you cannot hope to grip.
"Gentlemen," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and, of course,
boys, what a beautiful world this is. A beautiful world, full of
happiness on every side. Let me tell you a little story. Two Irishmen,
Pat and Mike, were walking along Broadway, and one said to the other,
'Begorrah, the race is not always to the swift,' and the other replied,
'Faith and begob, education is a drawing out, not a putting in.'"
I must say it seemed to me the rottenest story I had ever heard, and I
was surprised that Jeeves should have considered it worth while shoving
into a speech. However, when I taxed him with this later, he said that
Gussie had altered the plot a good deal, and I dare say that accounts for
At any rate, that was the _conte_ as Gussie told it, and when I say that
it got a very fair laugh, you will understand what a popular favourite he
had become with the multitude. There might be a bearded bloke or so on
the platform and a small section in the second row who were wishing the
speaker would conclude his remarks and resume his seat, but the audience
as a whole was for him solidly.
There was applause, and a voice cried: "Hear, hear!"
"Yes," said Gussie, "it is a beautiful world. The sky is blue, the birds
are singing, there is optimism everywhere. And why not, boys and ladies
and gentlemen? I'm happy, you're happy, we're all happy, even the meanest
Irishman that walks along Broadway. Though, as I say, there were two of
them--Pat and Mike, one drawing out, the other putting in. I should like
you boys, taking the time from me, to give three cheers for this
beautiful world. All together now."
Presently the dust settled down and the plaster stopped falling from the
ceiling, and he went on.
"People who say it isn't a beautiful world don't know what they are
talking about. Driving here in the car today to award the kind prizes, I
was reluctantly compelled to tick off my host on this very point. Old Tom
Travers. You will see him sitting there in the second row next to the
large lady in beige."
He pointed helpfully, and the hundred or so Market Snods-buryians who
craned their necks in the direction indicated were able to observe Uncle
Tom blushing prettily.
"I ticked him off properly, the poor fish. He expressed the opinion that
the world was in a deplorable state. I said, 'Don't talk rot, old Tom
Travers.' 'I am not accustomed to talk rot,' he said. 'Then, for a
beginner,' I said, 'you do it dashed well.' And I think you will admit,
boys and ladies and gentlemen, that that was telling him."
The audience seemed to agree with him. The point went big. The voice that
had said, "Hear, hear" said "Hear, hear" again, and my corn chandler
hammered the floor vigorously with a large-size walking stick.
"Well, boys," resumed Gussie, having shot his cuffs and smirked horribly,
"this is the end of the summer term, and many of you, no doubt, are
leaving the school. And I don't blame you, because there's a froust in
here you could cut with a knife. You are going out into the great world.
Soon many of you will be walking along Broadway. And what I want to
impress upon you is that, however much you may suffer from adenoids, you
must all use every effort to prevent yourselves becoming pessimists and
talking rot like old Tom Travers. There in the second row. The fellow
with a face rather like a walnut."
He paused to allow those wishing to do so to refresh themselves with
another look at Uncle Tom, and I found myself musing in some little
perplexity. Long association with the members of the Drones has put me
pretty well in touch with the various ways in which an overdose of the
blushful Hippocrene can take the individual, but I had never seen anyone
react quite as Gussie was doing.
There was a snap about his work which I had never witnessed before, even
in Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps on New Year's Eve.
Jeeves, when I discussed the matter with him later, said it was something
to do with inhibitions, if I caught the word correctly, and the
suppression of, I think he said, the ego. What he meant, I gathered, was
that, owing to the fact that Gussie had just completed a five years'
stretch of blameless seclusion among the newts, all the goofiness which
ought to have been spread out thin over those five years and had been
bottled up during that period came to the surface on this occasion in a
lump--or, if you prefer to put it that way, like a tidal wave.
There may be something in this. Jeeves generally knows.
Anyway, be that as it may, I was dashed glad I had had the shrewdness to
keep out of that second row. It might be unworthy of the prestige of a
Wooster to squash in among the proletariat in the standing-room-only
section, but at least, I felt, I was out of the danger zone. So
thoroughly had Gussie got it up his nose by now that it seemed to me that
had he sighted me he might have become personal about even an old school
"If there's one thing in the world I can't stand," proceeded Gussie,
"it's a pessimist. Be optimists, boys. You all know the difference
between an optimist and a pessimist. An optimist is a man who--well, take
the case of two Irishmen walking along Broadway. One is an optimist and
one is a pessimist, just as one's name is Pat and the other's Mike....
Why, hullo, Bertie; I didn't know you were here."
Too late, I endeavoured to go to earth behind the chandler, only to
discover that there was no chandler there. Some appointment, suddenly
remembered--possibly a promise to his wife that he would be home to
tea--had caused him to ooze away while my attention was elsewhere,
leaving me right out in the open.
Between me and Gussie, who was now pointing in an offensive manner, there
was nothing but a sea of interested faces looking up at me.
"Now, there," boomed Gussie, continuing to point, "is an instance of what
I mean. Boys and ladies and gentlemen, take a good look at that object
standing up there at the back--morning coat, trousers as worn, quiet grey
tie, and carnation in buttonhole--you can't miss him. Bertie Wooster,
that is, and as foul a pessimist as ever bit a tiger. I tell you I
despise that man. And why do I despise him? Because, boys and ladies and
gentlemen, he is a pessimist. His attitude is defeatist. When I told him
I was going to address you this afternoon, he tried to dissuade me. And
do you know why he tried to dissuade me? Because he said my trousers
would split up the back."
The cheers that greeted this were the loudest yet. Anything about
splitting trousers went straight to the simple hearts of the young
scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Two in the row in front of
me turned purple, and a small lad with freckles seated beside them asked
me for my autograph.
"Let me tell you a story about Bertie Wooster."
A Wooster can stand a good deal, but he cannot stand having his name
bandied in a public place. Picking my feet up softly, I was in the very
process of executing a quiet sneak for the door, when I perceived that
the bearded bloke had at last decided to apply the closure.
Why he hadn't done so before is beyond me. Spell-bound, I take it. And,
of course, when a chap is going like a breeze with the public, as Gussie
had been, it's not so dashed easy to chip in. However, the prospect of
hearing another of Gussie's anecdotes seemed to have done the trick.
Rising rather as I had risen from my bench at the beginning of that
painful scene with Tuppy in the twilight, he made a leap for the table,
snatched up a book and came bearing down on the speaker.
He touched Gussie on the arm, and Gussie, turning sharply and seeing a
large bloke with a beard apparently about to bean him with a book, sprang
back in an attitude of self-defence.
"Perhaps, as time is getting on, Mr. Fink-Nottle, we had better----"
"Oh, ah," said Gussie, getting the trend. He relaxed. "The prizes, eh? Of
course, yes. Right-ho. Yes, might as well be shoving along with it.
What's this one?"
"Spelling and dictation--P.K. Purvis," announced the bearded bloke.
"Spelling and dictation--P.K. Purvis," echoed Gussie, as if he were
calling coals. "Forward, P.K. Purvis."
Now that the whistle had been blown on his speech, it seemed to me that
there was no longer any need for the strategic retreat which I had been
planning. I had no wish to tear myself away unless I had to. I mean, I
had told Jeeves that this binge would be fraught with interest, and it
was fraught with interest. There was a fascination about Gussie's methods
which gripped and made one reluctant to pass the thing up provided
personal innuendoes were steered clear of. I decided, accordingly, to
remain, and presently there was a musical squeaking and P.K. Purvis
climbed the platform.
The spelling-and-dictation champ was about three foot six in his
squeaking shoes, with a pink face and sandy hair. Gussie patted his hair.
He seemed to have taken an immediate fancy to the lad.
"You P.K. Purvis?"
"Sir, yes, sir."
"It's a beautiful world, P.K. Purvis."
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Ah, you've noticed it, have you? Good. You married, by any chance?"
"Sir, no, sir."
"Get married, P.K. Purvis," said Gussie earnestly. "It's the only life
... Well, here's your book. Looks rather bilge to me from a glance at the
title page, but, such as it is, here you are."
P.K. Purvis squeaked off amidst sporadic applause, but one could not fail
to note that the sporadic was followed by a rather strained silence. It
was evident that Gussie was striking something of a new note in Market
Snodsbury scholastic circles. Looks were exchanged between parent and
parent. The bearded bloke had the air of one who has drained the bitter
cup. As for Aunt Dahlia, her demeanour now told only too clearly that her
last doubts had been resolved and her verdict was in. I saw her whisper
to the Bassett, who sat on her right, and the Bassett nodded sadly and
looked like a fairy about to shed a tear and add another star to the
Gussie, after the departure of P.K. Purvis, had fallen into a sort of
daydream and was standing with his mouth open and his hands in his
pockets. Becoming abruptly aware that a fat kid in knickerbockers was at
his elbow, he started violently.
"Hullo!" he said, visibly shaken. "Who are you?"
"This," said the bearded bloke, "is R.V. Smethurst."
"What's he doing here?" asked Gussie suspiciously.
"You are presenting him with the drawing prize, Mr. Fink-Nottle."
This apparently struck Gussie as a reasonable explanation. His face
"That's right, too," he said.... "Well, here it is, cocky. You off?" he
said, as the kid prepared to withdraw.
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Wait, R.V. Smethurst. Not so fast. Before you go, there is a question I
wish to ask you."
But the beard bloke's aim now seemed to be to rush the ceremonies a bit.
He hustled R.V. Smethurst off stage rather like a chucker-out in a pub
regretfully ejecting an old and respected customer, and starting paging
G.G. Simmons. A moment later the latter was up and coming, and conceive
my emotion when it was announced that the subject on which he had clicked
was Scripture knowledge. One of us, I mean to say.
G.G. Simmons was an unpleasant, perky-looking stripling, mostly front
teeth and spectacles, but I gave him a big hand. We Scripture-knowledge
sharks stick together.
Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. There was in his manner, as
he regarded G.G. Simmons, none of the chumminess which had marked it
during his interview with P.K. Purvis or, in a somewhat lesser degree,
with R.V. Smethurst. He was cold and distant.
"Well, G.G. Simmons."
"Sir, yes, sir."
"What do you mean--sir, yes, sir? Dashed silly thing to say. So you've
won the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?"
"Sir, yes, sir."
"Yes," said Gussie, "you look just the sort of little tick who would. And
yet," he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, "how are we to know
that this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G.G.
Simmons. What was What's-His-Name--the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you
answer me that, Simmons?"
"Sir, no, sir."
Gussie turned to the bearded bloke.
"Fishy," he said. "Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in
The bearded bloke passed a hand across his forehead.
"I can assure you, Mr. Fink-Nottle, that every care was taken to ensure a
correct marking and that Simmons outdistanced his competitors by a wide
"Well, if you say so," said Gussie doubtfully. "All right, G.G. Simmons,
take your prize."
"Sir, thank you, sir."
"But let me tell you that there's nothing to stick on side about in
winning a prize for Scripture knowledge. Bertie Wooster----"
I don't know when I've had a nastier shock. I had been going on the
assumption that, now that they had stopped him making his speech,
Gussie's fangs had been drawn, as you might say. To duck my head down and
resume my edging toward the door was with me the work of a moment.
"Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids' school we
were at together, and you know what he's like. But, of course, Bertie
frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge
trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and
most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such
things were common. If that man's pockets, as he entered the
examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting-point with lists of the
kings of Judah----"
I heard no more. A moment later I was out in God's air, fumbling with a
fevered foot at the self-starter of the old car.
The engine raced. The clutch slid into position. I tooted and drove off.
My ganglions were still vibrating as I ran the car into the stables of
Brinkley Court, and it was a much shaken Bertram who tottered up to his
room to change into something loose. Having donned flannels, I lay down
on the bed for a bit, and I suppose I must have dozed off, for the next
thing I remember is finding Jeeves at my side.
I sat up. "My tea, Jeeves?"
"No, sir. It is nearly dinner-time."
The mists cleared away.
"I must have been asleep."
"Nature taking its toll of the exhausted frame."
"And enough to make it."
"And now it's nearly dinner-time, you say? All right. I am in no mood for
dinner, but I suppose you had better lay out the clothes."
"It will not be necessary, sir. The company will not be dressing tonight.
A cold collation has been set out in the dining-room."
"It was Mrs. Travers's wish that this should be done in order to minimize
the work for the staff, who are attending a dance at Sir Percival
Stretchley-Budd's residence tonight."
"Of course, yes. I remember. My Cousin Angela told me. Tonight's the
night, what? You going, Jeeves?"
"No, sir. I am not very fond of this form of entertainment in the rural
"I know what you mean. These country binges are all the same. A piano,
one fiddle, and a floor like sandpaper. Is Anatole going? Angela hinted
"Miss Angela was correct, sir. Monsieur Anatole is in bed."
"Temperamental blighters, these Frenchmen."
There was a pause.
"Well, Jeeves," I said, "it was certainly one of those afternoons, what?"
"I cannot recall one more packed with incident. And I left before the
"Yes, sir. I observed your departure."
"You couldn't blame me for withdrawing."
"No, sir. Mr. Fink-Nottle had undoubtedly become embarrassingly
"Was there much more of it after I went?"
"No, sir. The proceedings terminated very shortly. Mr. Fink-Nottle's
remarks with reference to Master G.G. Simmons brought about an early
"But he had finished his remarks about G.G. Simmons."
"Only temporarily, sir. He resumed them immediately after your departure.
If you recollect, sir, he had already proclaimed himself suspicious of
Master Simmons's bona fides, and he now proceeded to deliver a violent
verbal attack upon the young gentleman, asserting that it was impossible
for him to have won the Scripture-knowledge prize without systematic
cheating on an impressive scale. He went so far as to suggest that Master
Simmons was well known to the police."
"Yes, sir. The words did create a considerable sensation. The reaction of
those present to this accusation I should describe as mixed. The young
students appeared pleased and applauded vigorously, but Master Simmons's
mother rose from her seat and addressed Mr. Fink-Nottle in terms of
"Did Gussie seem taken aback? Did he recede from his position?"
"No, sir. He said that he could see it all now, and hinted at a guilty
liaison between Master Simmons's mother and the head master, accusing the
latter of having cooked the marks, as his expression was, in order to
gain favour with the former."
"You don't mean that?"
"Egad, Jeeves! And then----"
"They sang the national anthem, sir."
"At a moment like that?"
"Well, you were there and you know, of course, but I should have thought
the last thing Gussie and this woman would have done in the circs. would
have been to start singing duets."
"You misunderstand me, sir. It was the entire company who sang. The head
master turned to the organist and said something to him in a low tone.
Upon which the latter began to play the national anthem, and the
"I see. About time, too."
"Yes, sir. Mrs. Simmons's attitude had become unquestionably menacing."
I pondered. What I had heard was, of course, of a nature to excite pity
and terror, not to mention alarm and despondency, and it would be
paltering with the truth to say that I was pleased about it. On the other
hand, it was all over now, and it seemed to me that the thing to do was
not to mourn over the past but to fix the mind on the bright future. I
mean to say, Gussie might have lowered the existing Worcestershire record
for goofiness and definitely forfeited all chance of becoming Market
Snodsbury's favourite son, but you couldn't get away from the fact that
he had proposed to Madeline Bassett, and you had to admit that she had
I put this to Jeeves.
"A frightful exhibition," I said, "and one which will very possibly ring
down history's pages. But we must not forget, Jeeves, that Gussie, though
now doubtless looked upon in the neighbourhood as the world's worst
freak, is all right otherwise."
I did not get quite this.
"When you say 'No, sir,' do you mean 'Yes, sir'?"
"No, sir. I mean 'No, sir.'"
"He is not all right otherwise?"
"But he's betrothed."
"No longer, sir. Miss Bassett has severed the engagement."
"You don't mean that?"
I wonder if you have noticed a rather peculiar thing about this
chronicle. I allude to the fact that at one time or another practically
everybody playing a part in it has had occasion to bury his or her face
in his or her hands. I have participated in some pretty glutinous affairs
in my time, but I think that never before or since have I been mixed up
with such a solid body of brow clutchers.
Uncle Tom did it, if you remember. So did Gussie. So did Tuppy. So,
probably, though I have no data, did Anatole, and I wouldn't put it past
the Bassett. And Aunt Dahlia, I have no doubt, would have done it, too,
but for the risk of disarranging the carefully fixed coiffure.
Well, what I am trying to say is that at this juncture I did it myself.
Up went the hands and down went the head, and in another jiffy I was
clutching as energetically as the best of them.
And it was while I was still massaging the coconut and wondering what the
next move was that something barged up against the door like the delivery
of a ton of coals.
"I think this may very possibly be Mr. Fink-Nottle himself, sir," said
His intuition, however, had led him astray. It was not Gussie but Tuppy.
He came in and stood breathing asthmatically. It was plain that he was
I eyed him narrowly. I didn't like his looks. Mark you, I don't say I
ever had, much, because Nature, when planning this sterling fellow,
shoved in a lot more lower jaw than was absolutely necessary and made the
eyes a bit too keen and piercing for one who was neither an Empire
builder nor a traffic policeman. But on the present occasion, in addition
to offending the aesthetic sense, this Glossop seemed to me to be wearing
a distinct air of menace, and I found myself wishing that Jeeves wasn't
always so dashed tactful. I mean, it's all very well to remove yourself
like an eel sliding into mud when the employer has a visitor, but there
are moments--and it looked to me as if this was going to be one of
them--when the truer tact is to stick round and stand ready to lend a
hand in the free-for-all.
For Jeeves was no longer with us. I hadn't seen him go, and I hadn't
heard him go, but he had gone. As far as the eye could reach, one noted
nobody but Tuppy. And in Tuppy's demeanour, as I say, there was a certain
something that tended to disquiet. He looked to me very much like a man
who had come to reopen that matter of my tickling Angela's ankles.
However, his opening remark told me that I had been alarming myself
unduly. It was of a pacific nature, and came as a great relief.
"Bertie," he said, "I owe you an apology. I have come to make it."
My relief on hearing these words, containing as they did no reference of
any sort to tickled ankles, was, as I say, great. But I don't think it
was any greater than my surprise. Months had passed since that painful
episode at the Drones, and until now he hadn't given a sign of remorse
and contrition. Indeed, word had reached me through private sources that
he frequently told the story at dinners and other gatherings and, when
doing so, laughed his silly head off.
I found it hard to understand, accordingly, what could have caused him to
abase himself at this later date. Presumably he had been given the elbow
by his better self, but why?
Still, there it was.
"My dear chap," I said, gentlemanly to the gills, "don't mention it."
"What's the sense of saying, 'Don't mention it'? I have mentioned it."
"I mean, don't mention it any more. Don't give the matter another
thought. We all of us forget ourselves sometimes and do things which, in
our calmer moments, we regret. No doubt you were a bit tight at the
"What the devil do you think you're talking about?"
I didn't like his tone. Brusque.
"Correct me if I am wrong," I said, with a certain stiffness, "but I
assumed that you were apologizing for your foul conduct in looping back
the last ring that night in the Drones, causing me to plunge into the
swimming b. in the full soup and fish."
"Ass! Not that, at all."
"This Bassett business."
"What Bassett business?"
"Bertie," said Tuppy, "when you told me last night that you were in love
with Madeline Bassett, I gave you the impression that I believed you, but
I didn't. The thing seemed too incredible. However, since then I have
made inquiries, and the facts appear to square with your statement. I
have now come to apologize for doubting you."
"I asked her if you had proposed to her, and she said, yes, you had."
"Tuppy! You didn't?"
"Have you no delicacy, no proper feeling?"
"Oh? Well, right-ho, of course, but I think you ought to have."
"Delicacy be dashed. I wanted to be certain that it was not you who stole
Angela from me. I now know it wasn't."
So long as he knew that, I didn't so much mind him having no delicacy.
"Ah," I said. "Well, that's fine. Hold that thought."
"I have found out who it was."
He stood brooding for a moment. His eyes were smouldering with a dull
fire. His jaw stuck out like the back of Jeeves's head.
"Bertie," he said, "do you remember what I swore I would do to the chap
who stole Angela from me?"
"As nearly as I recall, you planned to pull him inside out----"
"--and make him swallow himself. Correct. The programme still holds
"But, Tuppy, I keep assuring you, as a competent eyewitness, that nobody
snitched Angela from you during that Cannes trip."
"No. But they did after she got back."
"Don't keep saying, 'What?' You heard."
"But she hasn't seen anybody since she got back."
"Oh, no? How about that newt bloke?"
"Precisely. The serpent Fink-Nottle."
This seemed to me absolute gibbering.
"But Gussie loves the Bassett."
"You can't all love this blighted Bassett. What astonishes me is that
anyone can do it. He loves Angela, I tell you. And she loves him."
"But Angela handed you your hat before Gussie ever got here."
"No, she didn't. Couple of hours after."
"He couldn't have fallen in love with her in a couple of hours."
"Why not? I fell in love with her in a couple of minutes. I worshipped
her immediately we met, the popeyed little excrescence."
"But, dash it----"
"Don't argue, Bertie. The facts are all docketed. She loves this
"Quite absurd, laddie--quite absurd."
"Oh?" He ground a heel into the carpet--a thing I've often read about,
but had never seen done before. "Then perhaps you will explain how it is
that she happens to come to be engaged to him?"
You could have knocked me down with a f.
"Engaged to him?"
"She told me herself."
"She was kidding you."
"She was not kidding me. Shortly after the conclusion of this afternoon's
binge at Market Snodsbury Grammar School he asked her to marry him, and
she appears to have right-hoed without a murmur."
"There must be some mistake."
"There was. The snake Fink-Nottle made it, and by now I bet he realizes
it. I've been chasing him since 5.30."
"All over the place. I want to pull his head off."
"I see. Quite."
"You haven't seen him, by any chance?"
"Well, if you do, say goodbye to him quickly and put in your order for
lilies.... Oh, Jeeves."
I hadn't heard the door open, but the man was on the spot once more. My
private belief, as I think I have mentioned before, is that Jeeves
doesn't have to open doors. He's like one of those birds in India who
bung their astral bodies about--the chaps, I mean, who having gone into
thin air in Bombay, reassemble the parts and appear two minutes later in
Calcutta. Only some such theory will account for the fact that he's not
there one moment and is there the next. He just seems to float from Spot
A to Spot B like some form of gas.
"Have you seen Mr. Fink-Nottle, Jeeves?"
"I'm going to murder him."
"Very good, sir."
Tuppy withdrew, banging the door behind him, and I put Jeeves abreast.
"Jeeves," I said, "do you know what? Mr. Fink-Nottle is engaged to my